2009 Runners & Riders With Justin Chisholm

The Melges 24 International season is now well underway and as most owners have finalised their teams and campaigns for the year ahead, we thought it would be a good time to have a look at who the potential star names might be in 2009.

In the US, the hosting of the Annapolis 2009 World Championship at the end of this year has given new focus to some existing US campaigns, as well as attracting interest from several names from outside the class. The list of what we might describe as ‘the usual suspects' is topped by Terry Hutchinson on Quantum Racing who will have fond memories of Annapolis, having of course won the 2008 North American Championship there in some style. Aided and abetted by tactician Scott Nixon and their championship winning crew, Hutchinson will without doubt be a prime contender for the 2009 world title.

Brian and John Porter aboard the legendary Full Throttle, arguably the most consistent US performers at world championship level in Melges 24 history, will be back for another bite at the World Championship cherry. Crewed by Melges Performance Sailboats President Andy Burdick and with Harry Melges calling tactics, the Porters can surely boast more Melges 24 expertise than any other and rest assured that nobody wants to bag the world crown more than them. Having struggled with illness at the North Americans, local boy Chris Larson will be back at the helm of his own boat and will be putting his knowledge of the Chesapeake to best use come the Worlds. Larson is a serial one-design champion and must be considered a contender on his home turf.

No Melges 24 World Championship would be complete without Bruce Ayres and his team of Corinthian buddies aboard Monsoon. Ayres and his ‘amateur with a professional attitude' crew have regularly shown the pro teams how to do it by taking race wins in previous World Championships and will be shooting for a top tier result this year. Another US team with the potential for glory in Annapolis is Alan Field's crew on WTF? In Key West this year we lost count of how many races Field led around the first windward mark. The fact that he converted two of them into race wins along with another second place highlights the potential for Field to be a title contender in 2009.

John Kolius and his crew are clearly committed to achieving success in the Melges 24 class and after putting in the necessary hard yards they are beginning to reap the rewards. A consistent performance in Key West earned them a top ten result on which they will be hoping to build in the run up to this year's Worlds. Simon Strauss is another owner driver who has the potential for greatness this year and he will have Bora Gulari on tactics as well as securing the services of experienced match racer Genny Tulloch for the bow. Strauss showed his ability to put together a series last year when he finished third at the US National Championship having led the regatta right up until the final race.

The list of the many other US teams capable of winning races and stringing together a series good enough for a top ten or maybe even podium position at the Worlds includes US class president Travis Weisleder, Kristen Lane, David Dabney, Stuart McNay, Otto von Blumencron, Alex Schaffer, amongst others. An influx of talent from outside the class means that there are also some new names to watch out for on the US circuit this year. None more so than Charleston's David O'Reilly who gave past world champion Dave Ullman a run for his money at the St Pete NOOD earlier this year and will be up for more regatta success during this season.

Across the Atlantic in Europe the 2009 European Championship looms large on the schedules of the top Melges 24 teams. It could be argued that the depth of the euro talent pool is greater than in the US and certainly there are a lot of teams putting together some very serious campaigns for this year. Leading the Continental charge is Lorenzo Santini's reigning World Championship squad aboard UKA UKA Racing. This team was put together by Melges Europe boss Federico Michetti and features Lorenzo Bressani on the helm. There is one change from last year as US tactician Jonathan McKee steps in to replace Francesco Bruni who will be focusing on his America's Cup ambitions as a member of the Joe Fly Team. UKA UKA Racing look to be planning to continue in 2009 as they left off in 2008 and dominated much of the proceedings in Key West this year.

There are a multitude of other Italian teams lining up to knock UKA UKA Racing off the top spot however. Alberto Bolzan at the helm of Pilot Italia took the runner up spot at the Worlds in Porto Cervo last year and he is clearly back on excellent form having just won the first of the Volvo Cup Series in Alassio, Italy. Maurizio Abba's Alina Helly Hansen took the final podium position in Sardinia and they are back this year with regular helm Luca Valerio.  Subject to him recovering from a nasty leg injury, their tactician Daniele Cassinari will join them from May onwards, making them a real force to be reckoned with this year.

Italian Olympic 470 ace Gabrio Zandona will lead the double European champions Joe Fly in search of a record third victory. 2007 Melges 24 European Champion Flavio Favini will be back at the helm of Swiss entry Blu Moon and looking add his own second European title victory. Nico Celon has happy memories of Hyeres where he was crowned Melges 24 World Champion in 2006 and he will be keen to try to pull off a unique double by winning the Worlds and Europeans at the same venue.

Amongst the many other Italian helms to watch are Riccardo Simoneschi who is back in the class on AUDI Fratelli Giacomel, Saetta with new helm Carlo Fracassoli, Roberto Martinez on Firebolt, Luca Bursic on Etabeta, as well as Matteo Ivaldi on Brontolo AB Medica backed up by Freddie Loof making a welcome return to the class as tactician.

Despite the apparent dominance of the Italians there are several teams from the ‘rest of Europe' contingent who could easily have a say at the European Championship. In particular the French, who although down on numbers nationally, still have a number of top teams capable of doing well in Hyeres. Amongst them is Marsail helmed by Maxime Paul whose experienced crew includes members of the 2004 World Championship winning P&P and local Hyeres team Eurovoilles helmed by Christophe Barrue with regatta organiser Denis Enfante as tactician. Both these teams will be keen to see off the Italian invasion by securing a Europeans victory for France and given the breaks either are well capable of doing just that.

The UK has always had a strong presence in European Melges 24 racing and this year will field a three pronged squad. John Pollard's will be back with tactician Rob Smith on A-Team Westaway, Stuart Simpson's Team Barbarians crew includes the highly experienced Nigel Young and Jamie Lea and Miles Quinton's Gill Code Zero will be helmed again this year by serial dinghy champion and current SB3 World Champion Geoff Carveth. Another team to keep an eye on is Stian Briseid's Norwegian entry Terra Eindomsmeglng helmed by Oyvind Peder Jahre. This team who won the 2008 Corinthian World Championship and are tipped for even greater success this year

Large though the list of potential victors may seem, without a doubt there will be other teams who make their mark on the Melges 24 regatta scene on both sides of the Atlantic as this season unfolds. What is clear is that the standard of competition on the International Melges 24 circuit is higher than ever this year and we are in for yet another amazing season of racing. Anyone making podium at any of our regattas in 2009 should be justifiably proud. Good luck!